The Growth of Tourism and the Blue Economy in India

All along the coast, fishing villages are populated by people dependant directly and indirectly on fishing & other coastal livelihoods and India is gearing up to develop coastal and cruise tourism. The rush to develop the ‘blue economy’ risks harming both the marine environment and local economies and livelihoods.

Over three billion people in the world depend on oceans and ocean resources for food and employment, they directly and indirectly employ over 200 million people. Oceans account for over 3 trillion dollars of global GDP, act as carbon sinks which absorb 30% of global carbon emissions, and are the largest primary source of proteins to billions of people.

All along the coast, fishing villages are populated by people dependant directly and indirectly on fishing & other coastal livelihoods. India has about 3288 fishing villages where 10 lakh fish workers are involved in active fishing. While an additional 7 lakh people are involved in fishing allied activities such as making and repairing fishing nets, curing the catch, peeling, and other processing activities. Fishing in India is still largely done by employing traditional fishing methods and of the nearly 9 lakh households that are involved in fishing, 91.3% are traditional fisher folk. Out of this, more than 5 lakh households (over 61%) are below the poverty line.

Over the last decade we’ve begun to hear more and more about the growth of the “Blue Economy” – a term which refers to the “sustainable” use of ocean and marine resources for economic growth, jobs, and improved livelihoods. The economic potential of the oceans is expected to double from US1.5 trillion in 2010 to US3 trillion by 2030. Ocean resources are viewed as lucrative areas for increased investment, including in fisheries, aquaculture, bio-prospecting, renewable energy, oil and gas, and other businesses. Ensuring that socially equitable and sustainable development occurs should be the mandate of governments and industry. Unbridled ocean development produces substantial harms for both the marine environment and the wellbeing of the communities who depend on it.

Coastal, marinem and leisure tourism, central to the Blue economy, promises opportunities at both offshore and onshore coastal areas. The World Travel and Tourism Council reports that tourism in India generates of 15 lakh crore rupees to or 9.4% of India’s GDP (that’s more than two hundred billion US dollars). It also states that nearly 42 million jobs are created in the tourism sector, and predicts that tourism could grow at an annual rate to 32.05 lakh crores by 2028. Developing tourism in the coastal areas with  infrastructure and connectivity is receiving massive impetus from the state. Creation of ‘Special Tourism Zones’ anchored on Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) in partnership with the States was announced in the Budget for 2017- 18.

India is gearing up to develop coastal and cruise tourism. The expansion of the Blue Economy in India is not a simple process or single policy, it is operationalized through a number of policies, schemes, and promotions.

State and National policies are being altered to produce a greater impetus to develop tourism destinations along the coast and provide tourism facilities while promoting investments and providing subsidies to investors who develop tourism. Look at the changes to the Coastal Regulation Zone through Coastal Regulation Zone Notification and the Island Coastal Regulation Zone Notifications. These regulations were conceptualised to provide a regulatory framework for coastal areas and secure the livelihoods of coastal communities. These regulations have been amended over and over again to aid privatization and industrial development of the coasts. As recently as in January, 2019, a fresh set of notifications were notified, which have had the effect of removing most regulations for the coast and facilitating the development of tourism all along the beaches and coasts of India and in the islands of Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep. These changes have been brought in at the cost of lives of livelihoods of coastal and island communities.

The Government of India has launched tourism related schemes such as Swadesh Darshan, which intend to promote tourism circuits and providing basic facilities and ambience in the tourist destinations. Under these schemes, money is being allocated to build tourism infrastructure along the coasts and beaches. 99.2 crore rupees was sanctioned in 2016-17 to develop a coastal tourism circuit in Tamil Nadu under Swadesh Darshan scheme.

Sagarmala scheme also pushes forward Blue Economy tourism development in India. Focused primarily on development of ports and portled infrastructures, port based industrialization and port led logistics. However, a part of the development plan for Sagarmala includes development of high end, luxury, coastal tourism destinations. Additionally, the Sagarmala scheme will aid the development of cruise tourism through the development of ports. The Standard Operating Procedures of Cruises, which are a set of guidelines for operating cruises in India, have been relaxed to aid cruises tourism by reducing taxes, providing priority berthing and facilitating on arrival visas.

Even as all these plans for pushing coastal tourism and cruise tourism are made, there is little understanding on the ground of the impacts such developments will have on coastal communities and if such development will actually benefit them. Any developments that are planned along the coasts and in the seas have to necessarily keep in mind the needs and aspirations of a huge population that is dependant on the coasts.

The rampant development of infrastructure and rapid investment by the state governments funded by International Financial Institutions has fueled land and ocean grabbing and led to the displacement of fishing communities, forcing them to change livelihood patterns. Development of coastal tourism creates a tug of war for the same resources that are an integral part of both the fishing and tourism industry.

While we hear that tourism holds the promise of new jobs, experiences across the country shows that the kind of work that the local communities get are low-paying and menial in nature, such as cleaners, helpers, auto-rickshaw drivers and largely contractual and often seasonal.

The push for tourism in the Blue Economy and way that its promotion has relaxed policies and regulations to favour the industry is alarming! Global experiences of cruise tourism have shown that there is very little benefit derived from cruise tourism to local economies and to the local communities. Experiences of coastal tourism have also not been pleasant experiences for coastal communities, who have had to deal with loss of access to resources and increasing displacement and marginalization.

The rush to develop the ‘blue economy’ risks harming both the marine environment and local economies and livelihoods. We needs bold policies and action to slow this shift towards the maximisation of coastal and riverine resource utilisation. We’re currently preparing a study examines the impact and effects of the growth of tourism under the Blue Economy model of development and documents the experiences of the coastal communities most affected by this form of development.